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Unsung Bowyer gets pole in first Chase race

9/14/2007 - NASCAR

LOUDON, N.H. -- Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. have been
under the radar all season, never mistaken for one of NASCAR's
superstars.

But as first-time participants in the Chase for the Nextel Cup
championship, both have an opportunity to improve their status.
Bowyer won the pole for Sunday's Chase-opening race at New
Hampshire International Speedway, while Treux qualified second.

"It's my time to show what we've got," Bowyer said Friday.
"If I can step up my game and run for a championship, I think it
moves you into the spotlight, into that elite group of drivers."

Bowyer and Truex are the new guys in the 12-man Chase field, and
neither is listed among the favorites. They are hardly mentioned as
long shots, and Las Vegas oddsmakers put Truex's title chances at
25-to-1, while Bowyer goes off at 30-to-1.

With just one win between them, the two are largely unknown and
often overshadowed by their successful teammates.

Despite two Busch Series titles, Truex is the quiet companion to
Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver. He was better on
the track this season, and his first career victory -- at Dover in
June -- pushed him into Chase contention.

He never faltered, but got little attention for racking up 10
top-10 finishes. Instead, the focus was on Earnhardt's impending
departure from DEI, his rash of broken motors and his unsuccessful
bid to make the Chase.

Earnhardt said his buddy has emerged as the future of DEI, but
his accomplishment has been unfairly overlooked.

"He went out there and won at Dover and sort of stepped up to
the plate and became that guy," Earnhardt said. "I think that he
wants to be that guy ... he's raced underneath me for a couple
years now and he answers all the questions about Dale Jr. and this,
that and the other and he does it with patience.

"I would have a hard time putting up with it all the time. I
think it's something that he's really looking forward to, really
getting out from behind that being at the forefront of the
company."

Truex is the son of a racer, and had two choices growing up in
New Jersey. He could join the family seafood company business or
pursue a career in racing. After trying both -- he worked on his
father's cars and served as a deckhand for Sea Watch Int. -- he knew
exactly which way he wanted to go.

"He found out racing was a lot more fun," Martin Truex Sr.
said.

So Truex started in modifieds on the short tracks near his home,
moved into the Busch East Series and won five races from 2000 to
2003 to earn a ride with DEI.

His father said he knew what he was getting into when he signed
up to be teammates with Earnhardt, but is capable of replacing him
when Junior leaves for Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the
season.

"Martin has always been the one to sit back and do his job,"
Truex Sr. said. "He was the No. 2 driver here, he recognized that
coming in. Now he's the No. 1 driver, and he'll step up."

Bowyer is still finding his spot at Richard Childress Racing,
where he's surrounded by popular veteran Jeff Burton and
cantankerous Kevin Harvick. His teammates have such strong
personalities, Bowyer can often hide between them.

"I am probably the ground wire that keeps them two together,"
Bowyer said. "You've got the politician, the senator, and then
you've got the wild one that you never know what's going to happen.
I think I am kind of the middle man."

He's been a perfect fit at RCR, where he graduated to after
dominating regional series.

Bowyer won 18 races in 40 modified starts in Kansas in 2001, and
moved into the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Midwest the next season.
He won the championship and earned some ARCA starts, where he
caught Childress' eye after leading 47 laps and finishing second in
his debut at Nashville.

Childress called him shortly after, and Bowyer thought he was
the victim of a practical joke when the car owner's assistant got
him on the phone.

"I'm a practical joker and I like playing jokes on people, and
I just thought it was somebody playing a joke on me," Bowyer said.
"I just about hung up, but she held me on there long enough and
finally she put Richard on and I recognized his voice right away."

He was in the Nextel Cup Series last season, and he racked up 12
top-10s while finishing 17th in the final standings. But both
Burton and Harvick made the Chase, and the pressure was on for
Bowyer to join his teammates in the championship hunt.

Bowyer delivered, even though he's the only Chase driver yet to
score a win. In fact, he's only got six top-fives for his career,
and has never finished higher than third.

But Burton said Bowyer will be a threat for the title.

"Our company has expectations on him," Burton said. "Anybody
who doesn't think that team is a dangerous team has their head
covered in the sand."